Bringing Women into the Construction Trades

by Melanie Baravik
December 11, 2017

It’s no longer news that there’s a shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry across the U.S. There are many reasons for that shortage, like many years of encouraging high school students to get college degrees instead of trade certifications. The steep dip in construction spending, and consequently job availability, during the Great Recession is another factor. But now, with the economy on the upswing and construction spending on the rise, the demand for skilled workers is growing.

Construction has always been a male-dominated profession. Even today, women make up only around 9% of the industry’s workforce. The lack of skilled workers—like electricians, carpenters and plumbers—and the ever-growing demand have spurred construction to double down on recruitment efforts. And the huge gender disparity in the trades means many of those efforts are aimed at women. A statewide marketing campaign in Massachusetts, a nonprofit in West Virginia and a Wisconsin firm’s annual event just for girls are just a few ways construction is bringing women to the jobsite.

Massachusetts: Build a Life That Works

In Massachusetts, the Build a Life That Works campaign is getting underway with the goal of increasing the percentage of tradeswomen in the state from 5% to 20% by 2020. The campaign comes at the same time that two new casinos are going up in the state capital, the Wynn Boston Harbor and the MGM Springfield. A partnership made up of several organizations including the casinos themselves, the state Gaming Commission, the state Department of Transportation and the city of Boston, the campaign hopes to recruit women to fill the more than 6,000 jobs casino construction will bring.

But that isn’t the only goal of Build a Life That Works. Training women in the trades opens up a lifetime of career opportunities in the lucrative industry, not to mention the positive repercussions of gainfully employed women on the Massachusetts economy. Another campaign goal is to increase ethnic diversity in the trades, aided by organizations like founding partner Building Pathways. Stay tuned for 2020 to see the movement’s success.

Wisconsin: Build Like a Girl

Miron Construction Co. hosts Build Like a Girl annually for girls in grades 7-10 at their headquarters in Neenah, Wisconsin. During the day-long event, girls work with heavy equipment and power tools and are educated about the benefits of trade jobs, like paid training, high wages and job security. The girls-only setting is meant to encourage attendees to speak up and try new things without embarrassment. Dave Walsh, Miron’s vice president of leadership and organizational development, said, “‘We want to show them they can do it.’”

Reaching out to middle and high school-aged girls builds their interest in construction early, when they’re beginning to think about college, careers and life after graduation. This is especially important as a large part of the construction workforce is nearing retirement and creating more vacant jobs, exacerbating the labor shortage. Miron is focusing on the intersection of these important, promising demographics—women and young people—to bring in an educated, diverse new generation of tradespeople.

West Virginia: WV Women Work

West Virginia Women Work is a nonprofit that advocates for women’s education, particularly in the trades, so they can become economically self-sufficient and bring themselves out of poverty. The organization offers the tuition-free Step Up for Women Construction Pre-Apprenticeship, an 11-week course offered in Morgantown, Charleston and Wheeling. Students can graduate from the program with useful certifications:

OSHA 10 construction safety card
• Electrical Apprentice License
• Plumbers in Training License
• Carpenter Helper Certification (not available at all jobsites)

The barriers to entry are low, since no construction experience is required, and students even receive a mileage and clothing stipend. And its results have been positive since its founding in 2000—there’s an 80% job placement rate among graduates, and they earn an average of $3 an hour more than they would at a traditional job.

WV Women Work also offers the Advanced Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship, for women interested in the manufacturing field. Graduates of the programs and any women in nontraditional jobs can join the nonprofit’s Alumni Group, a networking opportunity for tradeswomen across the state.

These aren’t the only efforts to support women in the construction industry. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) has been around since 1953, providing educational and networking information and promoting its core purpose: “To enhance the success of women in the construction industry.” Professional Women in Construction (PWC) has similar goals, though its members don’t have to be women and come from a wider range of related professions.

Though there’s no way to know when the labor force will grow, it’s likely that a big part of it will be made up of women. And with programs like these available, skilled workers will be educated, empowered and ready to take on any project that comes their way.

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